England hold their nerve to down Wales
February 6, 2010
Danny Care scored a vital try just after the break for England
© Getty Images
England held their nerve to beat Wales 30-17 at Twickenham, with a brace from flanker James Haskell proving the difference between two sides beginning their Six Nations under pressure.
Jonny Wilkinson kicked 15 points and Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care scored a snappy try just after the break with Welsh lock Alun-Wyn Jones in the sin-bin. Jones' yellow card proved to be the pivotal moment in a scrappy game, with Haskell crossing moments later and Care ramming home the advantage.
Adam Jones and James Hook hit back for a Wales side that failed to deliver any cohesion but Haskell's second ended the game as a contest and provided some much-needed respite for Martin Johnson's men.
Both sides suffered dismal autumn campaigns and were rocked by injuries in the build-up. Wales lost scrum-half Dwayne Peel and two thirds of their Lions front-row in Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees, while England were counting the cost of a late withdrawal from centre Riki Flutey and continued shoulder problems for Andrew Sheridan. Wales could welcome back Lee Byrne though after the fullback's two week ban for his part in the Ospreys'16th man episode was overturned.
England maintained possession in the opening phases but were forced back by a dogged Welsh line, allowing Wilkinson only a long kick to force a Welsh 22. Jamie Roberts attempted a quick take but cleared the ball to an attacker, putting his side under pressure at the set-piece immediately.
England again worked the phases with no territorial gain, Wales turning possession over and clearing a long penalty to touch. Gareth Williams' first throw was snaffled by England but an offside charge from Wilkinson's clearance handed an opportunity to Hook from the tee. The newly-minted outside-centre had the distance from out wide but the ball faded across the face.
Wales won the kick-off and ripped into the opposition, Martyn Williams carving through the line and chipping ahead. Wilkinson tidied up but was picked up and hurled into touch five metres out. Williams found his man on this occasion but pedestrian play from Gareth Cooper at the base of the ensuing ruck allowed a simple turnover. Williams' next throw was again picked off and Care flew clear, Wales being penalised for an early tackle and conceding massive territory to Wilkinson's boot.
Williams gave away a penalty in front of the posts after going off his feet and Wilkinson did not need a second invitation to slot the opening points. Wales were forced back from the restart and an uncharacteristic spill of the ball from Byrne gave England more position on halfway.
An aimless kick from Toby Flood as the Welsh defence was outnumbered allowed Byrne to clear long and the England pack again secured clean lineout ball. They powered on and after Andy Powell had infringed Wilkinson fired a beautiful kick into the corner. Wales set themselves for the drive and just managed to hold the ball up, winning a penalty against David Wilson at the ensuing scrum.
Hook smacked his next penalty attempt well wide after some ferocious tacking by Powell and Jones. A blindside break from openside Williams threatened to produce the first try of the game after strong play by Jones, but an ill-judged kick from Cooper yielded an easy mark for Mark Cueto and the end of Wales' chance.
Cooper snaffled English ball at the scrum to give himself a chance to atone but missed out as the ball drifted to Tait from another poor kick. The centre hacked back, allowing Wales to counter. England, though, bit back but were penalised for holding on and Jones hammered over Wales' first points.
The pendulum swung England's way when Jones saw yellow for a blatant trip on an onrushing Dylan Hartley. Wales were immediately under pressure after Care shrugged off a tackle by Cooper, with Williams only just getting to grips with Ugo Monye as the Harlequins wing sped towards the line. Wales just stopped their charge as Steve Borthwick went close and as Cueto called for the ball out wide, referee Alain Rolland signalled a scrum. From a free kick, Care went close before the ball was again held up. Another wave of forwards poured towards the line and Haskell finally found the telling gap to score, which Wilkinson predictably converted.
A sloppy knock-on from Wales heralded the restart, with a penalty to England arriving at the scrum. The ball was shipped wide and Nick Easter barged through the line, his Harlequins team-mate Care on hand to accelerate clear and ensure a 17-point swing during Jones' sin-binning.
Some sloppy handling from England at the restart allowed Tom James to break clear, with the ball quickly moved wide for the skipper Jones to power on. As Cooper looked to recycle Borthwick grabbed him, leading to harsh penalty. Wales called for the scrum and as the ball came back from a powerful Jamie Roberts surge, tight-head Jones barrelled across the line after frantically looking for support.
Jones saw a penalty fall short before Williams' lineout woes returned with a skewed throw. England gave away a free-kick at the scrum, which became a penalty when Simon Shaw went off his feet. Wales went to the corner and after a sniping outside break by Hook, James looked certain to score but knocked on with the try-line at his mercy. Replays showed that the ball had in fact come off the wing's chest, with a possible score chalked off.
Wales looked to dominate possession but laboured play and atrocious distribution from Cooper hampered their efforts as time ticked away. One looping pass heralded the end of Cooper's afternoon, with his Blues team-mate Richie Rees introduced for a Test debut. Rees' presence immediately brought renewed vigour to Wales and off his front-foot ball Hook scythed past Tim Payne, handed off the covering Care and scored a marvellous try under the posts.
Jones converted but immediately their dreams turned to nightmares. A pass from the fly-half was picked off by Armitage, who freed Flood to race away. The centre was caught but had Haskell inside for his second after some excellent support play. Wilkinson converted for the victory, and the Twickenham faithful breathed an almighty sigh of relief when his penalty added an extra sheen to the scoreline.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.